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Politics of Spain

Parliamentary democracy was restored following the death of General Franco in 1975, who had ruled since the end of the civil war in 1939. The 1978 constitution established Spain as a parliamentary monarchy, with the Prime Minister responsible to the bicameral Cortes elected every 4 years. On February 23, 1981, rebel elements among the security forces seized the Cortes and tried to impose a military-backed government. However, the great majority of the military forces remained loyal to King Juan Carlos, who used his personal authority to put down the bloodless coup attempt.

In October 1982, the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), led by Felipe González Márquez, swept both the Congress of Deputies and Senate, winning an absolute majority. González and the PSOE ruled for the next 13 years. During that period, Spain joined NATO and the European Community.

In March 1996, José María Aznar's People's Party (PP) won a plurality of votes. Aznar moved to decentralize powers to the regions and liberalize the economy, with a program of privatizations, labor market reform, and measures designed to increase competition in selected markets, principally telecommunications. During Aznar's first term, Spain fully integrated into European institutions, qualifying for the European Monetary Union. During this period, Spain participated, along with the United States and other NATO allies, in military operations in the former Yugoslavia. Spanish planes took part in the air war against Serbia in 1999, and Spanish armed forces and police personnel are included in the international peacekeeping forces in Bosnia and Kosovo.

In a landslide victory, President Aznar and the PP won reelection in March 2000, obtaining absolute majorities in both houses of parliament. This mandate has allowed Aznar to form a government unencumbered by the coalition building that characterized his earlier administration. Aznar is a staunch supporter of transatlantic relations and the War on Terrorism. Elections will be held in March 2004, and Aznar has named First Vice President Mariano Rajoy to replace him as the People's Party candidate.

Local Government

The 1978 constitution authorized the creation of regional autonomous governments. By 1985, 17 regions covering all of peninsular Spain, the Canaries, and the Balearic Islands had negotiated autonomy statutes with the central government. In 1979, the first autonomous elections were held in the Basque and Catalan regions, which have the strongest regional traditions by virtue of their history and separate languages. Since then, autonomous governments have been created in the remainder of the 17 regions. The central government continues to devolve powers to the regional governments, which will eventually have full responsibility for health care and education, as well as other social programs.


The Government of Spain is involved in a long-running campaign against Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA), a terrorist organization founded in 1959 and dedicated to promoting Basque independence. ETA targeted primarily Spanish security forces, military personnel, and Spanish Government officials. The group has carried out numerous bombings against Spanish Government facilities and economic targets, including a car bomb assassination attempt on then-opposition leader Aznar in 1995, in which his armored car was destroyed but he was unhurt. The Spanish Government attributes over 800 deaths to ETA terrorism since its campaign of violence began. In recent years, the government has had more success in controlling ETA, due in part to increased security cooperation with French authorities.

In November 1999, ETA ended a cease-fire it declared in September 1998. Since that time, ETA has conducted a campaign of violence and has been blamed for the deaths of some 46 Spanish citizens and officials. Each attack has been followed by massive anti-ETA demonstrations around the country, clearly demonstrating that the majority of Spaniards, including the majority of Spain's Basque populace, have no tolerance for continued ETA violence. The government continues to pursue vigorous counterterrorist policy.

Spain also contends with a resistance group, commonly known as GRAPO. GRAPO is an urban terrorist group that seeks to overthrow the Spanish Government and establish a Marxist state. It opposes Spanish participation in NATO and U.S. presence in Spain and has a long history of assassinations, bombings, bank robberies and kidnappings mostly against Spanish interests during the 1970s and 1980s.

In a June 2000 communiqué following the explosions of two small devices in Barcelona, GRAPO claimed responsibility for several terrorist attacks throughout Spain during the past year. These attacks included two failed armored car robberies, one in which two security officers died, and four bombings of political party offices during the 1999-2000 election campaign. In 2002, Spanish authorities were successful in hampering the organization's activities through sweeping arrests, including some of the group's leadership.

Neither ETA nor GRAPO maintains the degree of operational capability once enjoyed. Most members of the groups are either in jail or abroad. ETA in particular remains a serious threat but one that must be kept in perspective. Just as Spain has largely conformed to European norms in political and economic terms a quarter-of-a-century after the death of Franco, so too has it progressed in the area of the safety of its citizens. The overall level of terrorist activity is considerably less than in the past, and the trend appears to be downward.

Al Qaeda has been known to operate cells in Spain, both logistically to support operations in other countries and potentially to mount attacks within Spain itself. Spanish investigative services and the judicial system have aggressively sought to arrest and prosecute their members, with the most notable raid occurring in Barcelona in January 2003. In that effort, Spanish authorities arrested 16 suspected terrorists and seized explosives and other chemicals. Spain also actively cooperates with foreign governments to diminish the transnational terrorist threat.

Country name:
conventional long form: Kingdom of Spain
conventional short form: Spain
local short form: España

Data code: SP

Government type: parliamentary monarchy

Capital: Madrid

Administrative divisions: 17 autonomous communities (comunidades autónomas, singular - comunidad autónoma); Andalucía (Andalusia), Aragón, Asturias, Illes Balears (Balearic Islands), Canarias (Canary Islands), Cantabria, Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León, Catalunya (Catalonia), Comunidad Valenciana (Valencia), Extremadura, Galicia, La Rioja, Madrid, Murcia, Navarra (Navarre), and País Vasco (Basque Country).
note: there are five places of sovereignty near Morocco: Ceuta and Melilla are administered as autonomous communities; Islas Chafarinas, Peñon de Alhucemas, and Peñon de Vélez de la Gomera are under direct Spanish administration

Independence: 1492 Conquest of Granada and union of the crowns of Castile and Aragon. But this is a debatable date as conventional as any other one. In fact, each kingdom (Castile, Aragon, Navarre) retained its separate institutions til 1715 (Decreto de Nueva Planta by Philip V of Spain. In 1812, the king Joseph I of Spain, Napoleon Bonaparte's brother, and the French troops of occupation were defeated.

National holiday: National Day, 12 October

Constitution: Approved in referendum 6 December 1978, effective 29 December 1978

Legal system: civil law system, with regional applications; does not accept compulsory ICJ jurisdiction

Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal

Executive branch:
chief of state: King Juan Carlos I (since 22 November 1975); Heir Apparent Prince Felipe, son of the monarch, born 30 January 1968
head of government: President of the Government José María Aznar López (since 5 May 1996); First Vice President Francisco Álvarez Cascos Fernández (since 5 May 1996) and Second Vice President (and Minister of Economy and Finance) Rodrigo Rato Figaredo (since 5 May 1996)
cabinet: Council of Ministers designated by the president
note: there is also a Council of State that is the supreme consultative organ of the government
elections: the monarch is hereditary, following the rule of Castilian Siete Partidas: the elder son is preferred to the elder daughter; president proposed by the monarch and elected by the National Assembly following legislative elections; election last held 12 March 2000 (next to be held NA 2004); vice presidents appointed by the monarch on proposal of the president
election results: José María Aznar López (PP) elected president; percent of National Assembly vote - 44%

Legislative branch: bicameral; General Courts or National Assembly or Las Cortes Generales consists of the Senate or Senado (259 seats - 208 members directly elected by popular vote and the other 51 appointed by the regional legislatures to serve four-year terms) and the Congress of Deputies or Congreso de los Diputados (350 seats; members are elected by popular vote on block lists by proportional representation to serve four-year terms)
elections: Senate - last held 12 March 2000 (next to be held NA March 2004); Congress of Deputies - last held 12 March 2000 (next to be held NA March 2004)
election results: Senate - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - PP 127, PSOE 61, CiU 8, PNV 6, CC 5, PIL 1; Congress of Deputies - percent of vote by party - PP 44.5%, PSOE 34%, CiU 4.2%, IU 5.4%, PNV 1.5%, CC 1%, BNG 1.3%; seats by party - PP 183, PSOE 125, CiU 15, IU 8, PNV 7, CC 4, BNG 3, other 5

Judicial branch: Supreme Court or Tribunal Supremo. See also Audiencia Nacional.

Political parties and leaders: Popular Party or PP (José María Aznar López); Spanish Communist Party or PCE (Francisco Frutos); Spanish Socialist Workers Party or PSOE (José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero, secretary general); United Left or IU (a coalition of parties including the PCE and other small parties) (Gaspar Llamazares; Basque Nationalist Party or PNV (Xabier Arzalluz Antia); Canarian Coalition or CC (a coalition of five parties) (Lorenzo Olarte Cullen); Convergence and Union or CiU (Jordi Pujol i Soley, secretary general) (a coalition of the Democratic Convergence of Catalonia or CDC [Jordi Pujol i Soley] and the Democratic Union of Catalonia or UDC (Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida)); Galician Nationalist Bloc or BNG (Xosé Manuel Beiras); Party of Independents from Lanzarote or PIL [leader NA]; Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya or ERC (Josep-Lluís Carod-Rovira); Iniciativa per Catalunya or IC (a coalition of PSUC and other parties) (Joan Saura); Eusko Alkartasuna or EA (Begoña Errazti).

Political pressure groups and leaders: business and landowning interests; Socialist General Union of Workers or UGT and the smaller independent Workers Syndical Union or USO; university students; Workers Confederation or CC.OO; Catholic Church; free labor unions (authorized in April 1977); on the extreme left (terrorism actually), the Basque Fatherland and Liberty or ETA and the First of October Antifascist Resistance Group or GRAPO use terrorism to oppose the government; Opus Dei;

International organization participation: AfDB, AsDB, Australia Group, BIS, CCC, CE, CERN, EAPC, EBRD, ECE, ECLAC, EIB, EMU, ESA, EU, FAO, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICC, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IEA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, IOM (observer), ISO, ITU, LAIA (observer), NATO, NEA, NSG, OAS (observer), OECD, OPCW, OSCE, PCA, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNMIBH, UNMIK, UNTAET, UNU, UPU, WCL, WEU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO, Zangger Committee

Flag description: three horizontal bands of red (top), yellow (double width), and red with the national coat of arms on the hoist side of the yellow band; the coat of arms includes the royal seal framed by the Pillars of Hercules, which are the two promontories (Gibraltar and Ceuta) on either side of the eastern end of the Strait of Gibraltar

See also : Spain